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What do you know about Wollongong? That it has the deepest port on Australiaâs east coast? That, for some reason, it is home to the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere? That it has a Motorlife Museum? Until we visited, neither did we. Yet, remarkably, itâs all true.
We also found that if you make the trip to Wollongong to get lost amongst these cultural wonders, youâll be utterly relieved to know that, after a hard dayâs exploring, youâll be able to quell your thirst with what is officially the best Koelsch in Australia.
The beer, brewed by Shaun Blissett and Ashur Hall of Illawarra Brewing Company – two guys in their mid 20s with little formal brewing training – was awarded gold at the 2012 Australian International Beer Awards. Add to that the gold it picked up at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show earlier in the year and you have somewhat of an official endorsement of quality.
This begs two fundamental questions: how and why? The answer, strangely enough, lies in Canberra.
It was in the nationâs capital where the two, completely unbeknownst to each other at the time, were studying Political Science. As most people will appreciate, thereâs only so much politics one can take before theyâre driven to drink and the Wig & Pen proved to be an alluring and obliging host. Indeed, Ashur credits their stout with helping him through many a cold winter afternoon.
While access to good beer provided blessed relief and lead to an epiphany of sorts, the lack of employment in the ACTâs public sector became the ultimate and unintended driver towards a career in beer on the NSW coast. For Shaun, Wollongong had always been home and for Ashur the local university allowed for a change in direction and a chance to study engineering. They made the move and, as a result, met for the first time after landing the obligatory hospitality jobs at what was then the Five Islands Brewery bar.
It was there where the pair began to take more of an interest in what it really took to make craft beer. As Shaun says, “being in the brewery bar, we obviously stocked all the beer that AG (Andrew Gow, Five Islandsâ brewer at that time) made. Heâd occasionally pop into the bar after an afternoon shift at the brewery and sometimes there’d be no other punters around, so Iâd pester him with a million questions”.
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